It is 11 degrees C when we leave Yulara. We have a day of driving on outback roads ahead of us.
Turning off the highway after Curtins Creek on to Mulga Park Road, we stop to deflate the tyre pressure to cope with the sandy terrain. Mulga Park Road is a wide roadway, scooped out of the red earth. No frills. The road lies well below the level of the land around us. I see camel tracks padding along side the roadway and we keep our eyes peeled for unexpected pedestrians.
The combination of sand and gravel rattles our bones as we drive along. We pass the mighty Mount Connor, a flat topped mesa monolith that we had mistaken for Uluru from a distance a few days before. It is part of the same ancient family that created Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
This is the first time we have driven off the beaten track on our own and we are a little nervous. I keep a watch on the rocky red cliffs that run alongside the road, on the lookout for camels or cattle. Richard drives with one eye on the road and one on the tyre pressure indicators.
“Camel”, I shout. A small buck camel stands by the side of the track, chewing. He looks up and watches us as we drive slowly by. He’s not bothered in the slightest. He’s the first wild camel we’ve seen on our outback trip, although we are told there are a million camels running wild in Central Australia. He looks rather cute.
We see dust approaching and a Landcruiser passes, giving the outback salute. Two fingers are lifted from the wheel and the head nodded slightly.
A few minutes later we disturb two emus feeding in the scrub. This lonely road is busier than we imagined.
The Curtin Springs station homestead comes into view and we turn left on to the Old Gunbarrel Highway. We have been reading the tales of Len Beadell, the man behind many outback tracks, including this one. The road is named after the Gunbarrel Road Construction Party he formed to build it. The name indicates their intention to build a dead straight road from East to West across Australia. He admits it should perhaps have been called the Corkscrew Road, but the name stuck and was adopted by the mapping authorities. With typical Aussie humour, he referred to all the roads he bashed through the bush as highways, and that stuck too.
We bounce along over the corrugations and weave to and fro across the highway to find the smoothest path. The land looks fertile, grasses and Mulga trees are growing with vigour. The palette is minty olive green on dark red ochre sands. Some well fed cattle peer out from the scrub and kick their heels up as they scatter on our approach.
There’s a rapid movement, a flash of blonde fur, and we see a dingo on the side of the road. We slow down to take a look. The wild dog trots into the road and looks at the car. He’s curious. Then, turning his head back every now and then, he continues on his way.
We are enjoying the vibrant colours of the scenery and the varied animal life along the way. The road stutters to a rugged, rocky end and we are once again turning on to the Stuart Highway.